Is star Ruth Wil­son’s grand­mother in ‘Mas­ter­piece’ drama

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Editors' Choice -

For most per­form­ers, do­ing a drama isn’t a fam­ily mat­ter. And then, there’s Ruth Wil­son.

The for­mer co-star of Show­time’s “The Af­fair” plays her own grand­mother – who learned, un­der tragic cir­cum­stances, that her mar­riage wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily what she thought it was – in the new “Mas­ter­piece” of­fer­ing “Mrs. Wil­son,” which airs over two con­sec­u­tive Sun­days start­ing March 31 on PBS (check lo­cal list­ings).

Af­ter the death of her es­pi­onage-nov­el­ist hus­band (played by Iain Glen), Ali­son Wil­son dis­cov­ers that he secretly had a com­pletely sep­a­rate se­cond fam­ily. With her grief sud­denly com­pounded by doubts of how much (or even if ) he loved her, she finds her dis­tress mount­ing as she meets his pre­vi­ously un­known rel­a­tives. Kee­ley Hawes (“Mas­ter­piece: The Dur­rells in Corfu”) plays his other spouse, with Fiona Shaw (“Killing Eve”) and Pa­trick Kennedy (“Board­walk Empire”) also in the cast.

“My grand­mother wrote a mem­oir in two parts,” Ruth Wil­son ex­plains, “and she gave the first part to us to read prob­a­bly about 15 years ago. And that was about her grow­ing up, meet­ing Alec, fall­ing in love with him, and then find­ing out about his be­trayal.” The mem­oir’s se­cond half landed in the hands of Ali­son’s sur­vivors af­ter her death, and Ruth reports “that was all about her find­ing God, which is the se­cond part of the film. But weirdly, a year af­ter she died, we then had cor­re­spon­dence from two other peo­ple say­ing, ‘I think we’ve got the same dad.’

“So, we worked out that she was one of four wives, not one of two. And we have an inkling that she might have known the full story, but only chose to write about one of them in her mem­oir. The (TV) piece then be­came an amal­ga­ma­tion of the mem­oir and things we have since found out about Alec and about his life, and about my grand­mother’s life. I’ve been talk­ing about it for years. We had th­ese fam­ily re­unions where we had name tags and met each other.”

Given her per­sonal at­tach­ment to the tale “Mrs. Wil­son” tells, ac­tress Wil­son ex­pect­edly re­flects, “It’s been an amaz­ing, pro­found ex­pe­ri­ence, and a very dif­fi­cult ex­pe­ri­ence in many ways. And some­thing very hard to play, but an amaz­ing priv­i­lege to step in­side my grand­mother’s shoes and tell this story and to tell it for the fam­ily.”

And the rel­a­tives have seen the re­sult, Wil­son adds: “We had a fam­ily screen­ing. We had all 55 mem­bers there, and that’s from the age of six months to 96 or 97. And there was a four-minute si­lence (at the end). Ev­ery­one was in tears, and it was an amaz­ing bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence ... so if any­thing, that’s the best thing that’s come from this.”

Ruth Wil­son and Iain Glen star in the new “Mas­ter­piece” drama “Mrs. Wil­son,” start­ing Sun­day on PBS (check lo­cal list­ings).

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